Skip to main content

Turkish-Armenian blogger sentenced to Turkish prison for blasphemy

By Ivan Watson and Gul Tuysuz, CNN
May 23, 2013 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
Turkish journalists protest by the Syrian Embassy in Ankara on August 31, to demand the release of two Turkish reporters.
Turkish journalists protest by the Syrian Embassy in Ankara on August 31, to demand the release of two Turkish reporters.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sevan Nisanyan accuses Turkey's government of politically persecuting him
  • His crime: "openly denigrating the religious values held by a certain portion of the population."
  • He says he has been prosecuted simultaneously in three Turkish courts
  • Nisanyan told CNN he recognizes he was deliberately confrontational in court

Istanbul (CNN) -- A Turkish-Armenian blogger vowed to appeal a day after an Istanbul court sentenced him to more than a year in prison for blasphemy.

In a phone interview with CNN, Sevan Nisanyan accused Turkey's Islamic-rooted government of politically persecuting him.

"When I attacked the Islamist establishment they felt I overstepped my boundaries," said Nisanyan, who is a member of Turkey's tiny Armenian ethnic minority. "Here I am an Armenian doing something no Armenian has done in a Muslim country. This is really the height of boldness, of impudence. This is something you are not supposed to do."

Read more: Group: Number of jailed journalists worldwide reaches record high

According to Turkey's semi-official Anatolian Agency, Nisanyan received a one year and 45-day jail sentence for "openly denigrating the religious values held by a certain portion of the population."

Anatolian reported that Nisanyan's initial nine-month jail sentence was extended because "the crime was committed through the press."

Turkey is a majority Muslim country.

Nisanyan said the court cited a passage in his blog published last September that referred to the international uproar triggered by cheaply made Hollywood film called the "Innocence of Muslims." The film, which ridiculed the most revered figure in Islam, the Prophet Mohammed, sparked violent protests in Egypt and Libya. The Turkish prime minister also denounced the movie as "Islamophobic," though protests on Turkish streets were small and peaceful.

On Wednesday, Nisanyan published an English translation of the passage in question from his September 2012 blog post:

"It is not 'hate crime' to poke fun at some Arab leader who, many hundred years ago, claimed to have established contact with Deity and made political, economic and sexual profit as a result. It is almost a kindergarten-level case of what we call freedom of expression," Nisanyan wrote.

Since the blog was published last year, Nisanyan said, prosecutors have taken him to court simultaneously for this passage in three separate courts across Turkey.

Nisanyan said he represented himself at the criminal court in Istanbul, without the help of an attorney. He acknowledged that he took a confrontational approach in his statement to the court, arguing that no one should be prosecuted for discussing the historical background of a religious figure.

CNN Blog: Erdogan's troubling shift toward repression

"In consequence of his claim to have established contact with Deity, this Muhammed, who was a lowly merchant, acquired political dominion over all Arabian and gained the financial means to raise 30-thousand-strong armies," Nisanyan wrote, citing his statement to the court.

"It is an incontrovertible historical fact that this person made political, economic and sexual profit from his alleged contact with Deity."

In his interview with CNN, Nisanyan recognized that he was deliberately throwing fuel on the fire regarding his conviction.

"I'm hoping to contribute to the ongoing debate in this country on freedom of expression and freedom of religion," Nisanyan said. "I think I'm performing a useful public service."

This is not the first time people have been convicted of insulting Islam in Turkey.

Last month Fazil Say, Turkey's most famous classical pianist, received a 10-month suspended jail sentence for insulting Islamic values in a series of statements disseminated on Twitter.

International press freedom organizations have slammed Turkey in previous years for having more journalists in prison than any other country.

On April 30, the human rights watchdog Amnesty International denounced a new package of legislation sponsored by the Turkish government.

"Amnesty International believes the reform package will allow abusive prosecutions to continue, forcing still more political activists, journalists and human rights defenders to face jail sentences for carrying out their work," Amnesty wrote.

According to Anatolian, the judge in Istanbul ruled "not to postpone the punishment" for Nisanyan because he has a record of prior convictions.

Nisanyan served 11 months in prison a decade ago for committing building violations in the touristic Turkish village of Sirince, where he owned and operated a hotel.

Prior to becoming an outspoken political blogger and newspaper columnist, Nisanyan was a prominent travel writer and hotelier who promoted the boutique hotel and bed-and-breakfast industry in Turkey.

He said he is currently appealing a dozen convictions with sentences that add up to 20 years in jail.

During his previous prison term, Nisanyan wrote and published a dictionary of Turkish etymology, a study of the history of words.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Successful launch of lunar orbiter, seen as a precursor for a planned mission to the surface of the moon, marks significant advance for the country's space program.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1915 GMT (0315 HKT)
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
CEO's 30-min Putonghua chat is the perfect charm offensive for Facebook's last untapped market.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0345 GMT (1145 HKT)
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2058 GMT (0458 HKT)
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 0333 GMT (1133 HKT)
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1607 GMT (0007 HKT)
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1748 GMT (0148 HKT)
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 0959 GMT (1759 HKT)
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1021 GMT (1821 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT